Safety

Storm Week

June 16, 2014

Thunderstorms cause relatively few accidents – on average, about five per year – but 75 percent of them are fatal. This high lethality is not surprising when you consider that the most common outcomes are in-flight break-ups or uncontrolled descents.

To keep this important topic front of mind, each year the Air Safety Institute dedicates one week as “Storm Week.” This year it was June 8-14 but if you missed it, don’t worry. All the great information is archived on one easy-to-navigate web page.

One of the great advances in general aviation in recent years has been the widespread availability of datalink weather. Like any technology, though, it can be used improperly. The “Time Lapse” Accident Case Study is a 12-minute video that examines a tragic accident, which occurred on December 19, 2011, and highlights an important and often-overlooked limitation of datalink radar.

Since that accident, there have been at least two more nearly identical accidents in which pilots apparently relying on datalink for weather avoidance flew into rapidly moving or developing cells. In fact, there were two in the same state within six weeks of one another: a July 8, 2012 accident in Mississippi involving a Piper PA-32R-300R and a May 31, 2012 accident also in Mississippi involving a Beech A36. Other recent thunderstorm accidents include a Cessna T-50 in Pennsylvania last September (ERA13FA402), a King Air E90 that crashed in Texas shortly after takeoff in July 2012 (CEN12FA421), and an AMD CH 2000 that was forced into the ground by a microburst in Utah in August 2012 (WPR12FA378).  All of those accident narratives can be found in the Air Safety Institute’s online accident database.

Despite technological innovation, thunderstorm-related accidents are NOT becoming less frequent.  There were six, (four fatal), in 1993; six (four fatal) in 2002; and eight (seven fatal) in 2012.  And fixed-wing pilots aren’t the only ones at risk. Read this Accident Report about an EMS helicopter pilot who tried to race a storm back to base and lost. 

So please visit the Air Safety Institute to learn more about the hazards of convective weather through the following programs and much more:

  • A video of AOPA President Mark Baker and AOPA Foundation President Bruce Landsberg discussing how they navigated around convective activity during a recent flight from St. Louis, MO to Frederick, MD.
  • A 10-question quiz about thunderstorm hazards
  • Videos of air traffic controller discussing the tools they have available to assist pilots in steering clear of hazardous weather.

Safe pilots are always learning, and the Air Safety Institute’s goal is to ensure pilots have a wealth of information to keep flying safely. Our educational programs are funded through donations from pilots dedicated to forwarding that mission. Show your support by donating to the AOPA Foundation today.